What does it sound like?:
One of the great things about the early 70s was that acts who normally lurked in the “underground” racks of your local record emporium would have the odd (as in occasional) hit. Once in a while, you’d even get to see a real outlier like King Crimson on TOTP, whose appearance for Cat Food was odd in the other widely accepted sense of the word as well.
Having joined Crimso and the Stones at Hyde Park in July 69 and subsequently scored two sizeable top 30 hits (Weaver’s Answer and In My Own Time), Family were amongst the more promising and popular of those bands. They’d even achieved a fair degree of notoriety when immortalized as Relation, the band whose Bacchanalian shenanigans were central to the plot of Jenny Fabian and Johnny (Tutti Frutti) Byrne’s Groupie.
Widely regarded as first among equals from their run of seven consistently moreish albums, Bandstand came, like its predecessors, Anyway and Fearless, in a stunning cover. In this case an almost 1:1 scale die-cut recreation of a 1950s Bush TV set. Even in an era where elaborate album sleeves were a familiar sight, the original Bandstand still stands out as being truly stunning half-a-century on.
Having survived the early departures of supposedly integral figures saxophonist Jim King and bassist Ric Grech, Family had bedded in arguably its most formidable line-up by the time Fearless was released in October 1971. In stores just 11 months later (they worked fast back then), Bandstand once again features vocalist Roger Chapman and guitarist John “Charlie” Whitney, ably supported by drummer Rob Townsend, bassist/vocalist John Wetton, plus multi-instrumentalist John “Poli” Palmer on vibes, keyboards and flute.
If Family could be said to have a trademark it was undoubtedly Roger C’s uniquely (some might say irritatingly) vibrato, Larry the Lamb-caught-in-Farmer-Grouse’s-threshing-machine-like vocals. Peter Gabriel was certainly a fan, there are hints of Chappo all over Nursery Crimes and Foxtrot. Would imagine young John Lydon may have stolen a trick or two from RC himself. Said vibrato is all over Bandstand’s nine tracks like white on rice – Broken Nose and Glove being two excellent examples.
A couple of disposable numbers aside (the plodding, by-the-numbers Bolero Babe and blink-and-you’ll-miss-it 1’ 41” Dark Eyes), Bandstand is at its strongest on tentpole tracks like uptempo album opener and top-20 single, Burlesque. The band’s songwriting and musical chops also shine through brightly on ‘lesser’ songs like the melancholic Coronation in which the narrator surveys the flotsam and jetsam of his lonely life.
It’s the glorious double-whammy of My Friend the Sun and Glove on what was side two of the original vinyl album that shows the band at their most melodically and lyrically diverse. The former is a gossamer-light acoustic number that when released as the follow-up single to the successful Burlesque, bafflingly failed to chart. If I was choosing music for a future John Lewis Xmas campaign, I’d definitely be putting this high up the list in my letter to Santa. A slow and almost wistful start having built to a climax showcasing a stunning guitar solo by Charlie Whitney, Glove is another classic.
Two of what were surely live act staples later (the somewhat lumpen Ready to Go and the gloriously anthemic Top of The Hill) and it’s all over bar the 10 bonus tracks. With buyers of the deluxe reissue of the previous year’s Fearless getting two CDs of bells and whistles’ extras, the 10 tracks of odds and sods included here – a few outtakes and a Brian Matthew radio session – come across as being a bit parsimonious.
While Bandstand is surely the summit of Chappo et al’s brief – was it really only five years from start to finish? – career, it was all downhill thereafter. For early 70s UK college circuit mainstays like Family, breaking America wasn’t about bragging rights, it was an economic necessity. Like the Kinks before them, the wheels came for Leicester’s finest practically the moment they crossed the pond. Rather than being hit with a union ban a la Ray, Dave, Pete and Mick, Family’s misfortune was down to Roger Chapman’s windmilled mike accidentally hitting make-or-break promoter, Bill Graham at the Fillmore East. Their Stateside career never really recovered and not even the band’s snaring of a high-profile support slot on an early Elton John tour could propel Bandstand past the lower reaches of the Billboard top 200.
Returning home to lick their wounds, Family had as Chappo claimed later pretty much “ran out of steam”. With Tony Ashton and Jim Cregan standing in for the departed Poli Palmer and John Wetton, the band recorded just one more album 1973’s It’s Only A Movie. Despite getting a fair amount of airplay on wunnerful Radio One, their gloriously ramshackle last hurrah Sweet Desiree might have failed to chart but it at least saw them go down with all guns blazing.
While Roger Chapman’s marmite vocals undoubtedly lost the band as many fans as they won, the other thing that may have held Family back was the fact they were impossible to pigeonhole. Ranging from grand guignol epics like Weavers Answer to more whimsical numbers like No Mule’s Fool, their talent was so wide-ranging the compilers of an early two-CD retrospective gave the set a chocolate box theme and entitled it A Family Assortment.
As for the 2023 reissue? While the aftermath of COVID may well be a factor, it seems odd that the disc arrives a year after what would have been its 50th anniversary. Given the way Cherry Red had pushed the boat out for Fearless, surely this was an excellent opportunity to give Bandstand a similar bigging up.
That said, if you’re looking to discover (or just rediscover) perhaps the finest album by one of the finest and most underrated UK bands of a golden era for UK rock, this timely reissue is an excellent place to start.
2 Bolero Babe
4 Dark Eyes
5 Broken Nose
6 My Friend the Sun
8 Ready to Go
9 Top of the Hill
10 The Rockin’ R’s
11 Coronation (First Version)
12 My Friend the Sun (First Version)
13 Glove (First Version)
14 The Rockin’ R’s (First Version)
15 Ready to Go
16 Dark Eyes
18 My Friend the Sun
What does it all *mean*?
It means that if you haven’t done so already, it’s high time you (re)discovered one of the best and most criminally under-rated British bands of the late 60s and early 70s
Goes well with…
A large blunt, a bottle of wine and a roaring fire to keep the winter chills away
Might suit people who like…
Girls called Rita and Greta twisting their arm